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Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

High-Level Summary

An essential (and classic) guide to sculpting your own effective career as a knowledge worker.


You have a long career ahead. Start managing yourself for success now so you don’t drift aimlessly or burn out.

Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution. And we will have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do.

Managing oneself demands that each knowledge worker think and behave like a chief executive officer.

Focus on building your strengths, not lessening weaknesses.

A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all.

Place yourself where your strengths can have the maximum impact. Continuously work to improve your strengths. Analysis will show you where to improve and identify knowledge gaps to fill.

Discover where your intellectual arrogance is disabling ignorance and overcome it.

Determine How You Learn & Operate Best to Manage Yourself Effectively

  • Am I a reader or a listener?
  • How do I learn? (Writer? Talker?)
  • Do I work well with people, or am I a loner?
  • If I work well with people, in what relationship?
  • Do I produce results as a decision maker or as an adviser?
  • What are my values?

To be effective in an organization, a person’s values must be compatible with the organization’s values. Make sure values are tightly aligned enough to exist in harmony together.

You have to understand the strengths, the performance modes, and the values of your coworkers to effectively perform.

Some perform well as advisors, but can’t handle the pressure of a stressful decision. Others need an advisor to force themselves to think through a problem in detail, then act with confidence.

The peasant’s son would also be a peasant; the artisan’s daughter, an artisan’s wife; and so on. But now people have choices.

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis.

Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.

Feedback analysis is by no means new. It was invented sometime in the fourteenth century by an otherwise totally obscure German theologian and picked up quite independently, some 150 years later, by John Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola, each of whom incorporated it into the practice of his followers. In fact, the steadfast focus on performance and results that this habit produces explains why the institutions these two men founded, the Calvinist church and the Jesuit order, came to dominate Europe within 30 years. Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie—and this is the most important thing to know. The method will show you what you are doing or failing to do…

But most people, especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties. By that time, however, they should know the answers to the three questions: What are my strengths? How do I perform? and, What are my values? And then they can and should decide where they belong.

Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person—hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre—into an outstanding performer.

It is rarely possible—or even particularly fruitful—to look too far ahead. A plan can usually cover no more than 18 months and still be reasonably clear and specific. So the question in most cases should be, Where and how can I achieve results that will make a difference within the next year and a half?

Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust.

Are You Preparing for a Second Act in Your Career?

We hear a great deal of talk about the midlife crisis of the executive. It is mostly boredom. At 45, most executives have reached the peak of their business careers, and they know it. After 20 years of doing very much the same kind of work, they are very good at their jobs. But they are not learning or contributing or deriving challenge and satisfaction from the job. And yet they are still likely to face another 20 if not 25 years of work. That is why managing oneself increasingly leads one to begin a second career.

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